Inside the Music
Act I — Life is a Cabaret
Act I, titled Life is a Cabaret recreates Berlin’s free-wheeling pre-war Weimar period that ended with Hitler’s ascendency in 1933. SMC’s assistant artistic director, Eric Lane Barnes created and arranged this act which features beloved tunes like Mack the Knife, Love for Sale, and Falling in Love Again. Local performer, Nick Garrison will join the Chorus with Wilkommen and Cabaret, among others. Under the direction of Donald Byrd, Spectrum Dance Theater will join the Chorus to interpret this riveting chapter of gay history through dance.
“Wilkommen” and “Cabaret” were written by John Kander and Fred Ebb for the stage musical and movie Cabaret. While these are not officially songs from the Weimar Republic period, they are very definitely songs about the period.
“Bilbao Song” was from the musical show Happy End by Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht.
“Surabaya Johnny” is another popular song from this show.
View “Bilbao Song” »
“Mack the Knife” is from the Brecht/Weill show The Threepenny Opera, the writers’ most popular and enduring shows.
The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) is based on John Gay’s 1728 work The Beggar’s Opera. While jazz and swing artists
from Ella Fitzgerald to Bobby Darin popularized (and swung the heck out of) “Mack the Knife”, the original song was intended to be creepy and dark.
Both Sting and Nick Cave have recently recorded the song.
Assistant artistic director Eric Lane Barnes has blended together several different translations of Brecht’s lyrics with Maxwell Anderson’s lyrics
plus did a bit of translating of his own for this concert.
View Sting singing “Mack the Knife” » Singing German lyrics »
“Bei Mir Bist du Schoen” was based on a song from the Yiddish show Men Ken Lebn Nor Men Lost Nisht
(You could live but they won’t let you.) It was written by Jacob Jacobs and Sholom Secunda. The song was sung by a pair of African-American performers at the
Apollo Theater in Harlem. Sammy Cahn saw the song and bought the rights to it. (As these kinds of things generally went in those days Sammy and those who followed
got all the fame and money from the song, while the two guys in Harlem got diddly squat.) The Andrews Sisters sang it, making it a huge hit in the US.
It was actually a big hit in Nazi Germany until its Jewish origins were discovered, upon which the song was promptly banned.
View “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen” performed by Al Bowlly »
View recreation of the original Yiddish version »
“Love For Sale“ was written by Cole Porter for the revue The New Yorkers in 1930. The song was considered too explicit for radio play
(it was sung by prostitutes, after all). Being banned from the radio only made “Love For Sale” more popular, with Libby Holman having the first popular
chart-topping hit in 1931. The song was a hit on both sides of the ocean, including in Germany. Even the wholesome, all-American Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians
sang this song about prostitution.
View video montage of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians singing the song »
“Fräulein, Pardon” was a comic tango written in 1928 by Will Meiser. Tangos were a big hit in Germany in the late 20s.
View “Fräulein, Pardon” »
“Tain’t No Sin (to Take Off Your Skin)” was a popular song by Walter Donaldson in 1929.
While unable to find any records showing this song was popular in Berlin, other songs by Donaldson certainly were, such as “My Blue Heaven”
and “My Buddy.”
View an amazingly clear recording of an original 78 rpm record»
This song will be performed by Captain Smartypants.
“Falling in Love Again” was made popular by Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) in 1930.
This is the theme of the entire concert, and will be sung in reprise at the end of the second act. Our version combines both German and English,
with a Marlene Dietrich soloist.
View Marlene as a young filly, singing the song in English »
“The Lavender Song” is one of the most intriguing and exciting songs from this concert. It was written in 1920 as an anthem for freedom for homosexuals. (The word “gay” didn’t exist as a term back then) It’s amazing that 90 years ago there were calls to freedom much the same way we have since Stonewall in 1969. The original German (“Das Lila Lied”) was quite a bit more obscure (but still plain enough in meaning).
Ute Lemper is a fantastic German singer, and sings her own translation of the song. For this concert, we’ll be using a different translation from the original German than Ute Lemper’s version. She sings quite a lot of songs from the Weimar period and has a version of the “Bilbao Song”, and “Mack the Knife“ as well.
Act One closes with a rousing version of “Cabaret.”
Act II — For A Look or a Touch
Act II, will feature a new commission of Jake Heggie’s For a Look or a Touch. This musical drama chronicles the relatively untouched and unknown subject of gay persecution during the Holocaust. This is Gad Beck (actor, David Pichette) and Manfred Lewin’s (operatic baritone Morgan Smith) tragic but true wartime love story. The commission is by SMC and Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. Intiman Theatre’s associate producer Andrew Russell will stage the production.
Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s For a Look or a Touch is a vital torch of remembrance. Through the dreamlike reunion of characters Gad and Beck, the opera unearths the buried memories of an entire generation tethered together in survival and shame. From 1871 through 1994, Paragraph 175 in the German Penal Code declared homosexuals as criminals. During the Holocaust, thousands of gay men were herded to concentration camps and punished in horrendous fashion. After the war, while the world celebrated, for the gay men of Germany, freedom only meant decades of silence in a country still blaring with homophobia.
Learning the deeper impact of Paragraph 175 has been enlightening, with the dissonance in the homosexual experience before and during World War II particularly sticking in my mind. Gay culture flourished in pre-Nazi Germany — some estimate there were more gay bars and periodicals in 1920 Berlin than in 1980 New York— but progress was halted as Nazi raids grew frequent. After being arrested and sent to concentration camps, gays were marginalized and assaulted by German soldiers and fellow prisoners alike, a unique blend of social and militaristic trauma. Those who survived the camps suffered and internalized the shock of being told to keep quiet by the ones they loved most. These victims carried a weight of guilt on behalf of all those denied a second chance at life, and were left dreaming for the community and support they once knew. The story of gays in the Holocaust is not simply that of a grim period in history; it is also the story of a fading generation slowly reconciling its past.
Like any marginalized group, gay men have often grown nimble at finding new methods of survival and strength. Gay artists have wielded significant influence over the progression of popular culture, a role well suited for a group of people stuck on the outside peering in. Resurrecting an experience for the sake of remembrance is an active form of protest against future atrocities, but doing so with craft, hope and grace also can make for great art. In For a Look or a Touch, Jake Heggie’s soaring music and Gene Scheer’s compact libretto stir ghosts to life, creating a haunting ritual shared by those living and dead.
We’ve come far over the decades since the Second World War, but further progress awaits. The moving “It Gets Better” video campaign was inspired by the death of rural teenagers. While President Obama has declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in the United States, homosexuality is still punishable by death in many countries. Those that fight for change, like David Kato in Uganda, may not live to see the impact of their life’s work. Today, struggle and hope continue to exist side by side, and through this balance a painful progress unfolds.
For a Look or a Touch is an honest piece —sculpted from real events and diary entries— and therefore is not without sadness. But, woven into the fabric of this struggle, is hope. As memories of this tragedy are allowed to grow stronger, so will the fight for a better tomorrow.
In 2006, composer Jake Heggie was asked by Seattle non-profit Music of Remembrance to create a short theatrical work commemorating the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. The libretto, by Gene Scheer, is based on stories from the documentary film Paragraph 175, and the journal of Manfred Lewin from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
The original operatic production For a Look or a Touch featured a baritone, an actor, and a quintet of instruments (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano). The piece premiered in Seattle in May 2007, and has now been expanded/rewritten to include a men’s chorus.
The piece features two major characters. The first is the ghost of Manfred Lewin, murdered by the Nazis in 1942. This part was sung during its premiere by operatic baritone by Morgan Smith, who will be returning to reprise the role with Seattle Men’s Chorus. The second (non-singing) role played by David Pichette is Gad Beck, Manfred’s lover, who managed to survive the War and is now elderly. One night Manfred visits Gad to help him remember their love and time together; they share memories, and relate what happened to each of them in the camps. In the end, Gad not only remembers, but embraces those memories.
Mr. Heggie states that while researching for this work, he looked for poetry or stories from the time of WWII about the subject of homosexuality before and during the Holocaust, but found almost nothing. Baffled, he looked to more recent sources and was deeply upset to discover the reason there was very little material available from more recent times as well — homosexuality was against the law in Germany until 1970. Even after the camps were closed, gays were considered criminals. After the war, they hid, married, fled, or blended in… through silence. The literary and art world began breaking this silence in the late 1970s (Martin Sherman’s 1979 play Bent, for example). But even in 2005, when the European Parliament drafted a resolution regarding the Holocaust, any mention of the persecution of gays was removed.
With this new, engrossing work of art, Seattle Men’s Chorus hopes to expose an historical travesty committed against a minority population, revealing a largely heretofore invisible horror. We present it to the public in order to strengthen our conviction against future atrocities of this kind, and to heal those still suffering persecuted hearts through the simple, yet political act of remembrance. The overarching project seeks to echo the character Manfred’s phrase “Do you remember?” that establishes the tone and recurring theme of the piece.
The persecution of gays during the Holocaust is not a topic that is much recognized or discussed. So Mina Miller [of Music of Remembrance, ed.] decided to take it on in a powerful and meaningful way: through music. When she called and asked me to create a new chamber composition based on this subject, I was deeply moved, excited and hugely challenged. How on earth could we find a way to do honor and justice to this subject? To recognize the suffering of so many in a 35-minute piece of music? The easy part was saying “yes.” The hard part came next: the fascinating and moving journey of discovery.
As an opera composer —a theater man— I told Mina I’d want to include a singer and find a narrative of some kind. She was very excited about this. I looked for poetry or stories from the time of WWII about this subject, but found nothing. Baffled, I looked to more recent sources and was deeply upset to discover the reason why there was no material from the actual time: homosexuality was against the law in Germany until 1970. Even after the camps were closed and the war was over, gays were considered criminals. So after the war, they went into hiding or got married, fled, or just tried to blend in. Silence. The literary and art world began breaking this silence in the late 1970s (Martin Sherman’s 1979 play Bent, for example). But even in 2005, when the European Parliament —the elected parliamentary body of the European Union— drafted a resolution regarding the Holocaust, any mention of the persecution of gays was removed.
In my research, I went to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, read books about the subject, and eventually came across the extraordinary documentary film, Paragraph 175, by Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. The film includes testimony from several gay men who were survivors of the camps. Here they are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, telling stories they never thought they’d be able to tell. Remarkable human stories: surprising, tragic, funny, hateful, shocking. I knew I wanted to use these stories, but didn’t quite know how it would happen. During this time, Mina Miller also sent me a link to the Holocaust Museum website that featured the journal of Manfred Lewin, a gay jew who was murdered at Auschwitz with his entire family.
That’s when I realized I needed a librettist to help put this all together. The elements were there, just not the story.
I had just worked with Gene Scheer on a new song cycle, and we were planning to write an opera together, so I asked him if he’d be interested. He was eager to do so. Gene is a tremendously gifted man, a songwriter as well as a librettist and lyricist. I shared with him the film Paragraph 175 and the books I’d found. He found books I didn’t know about, and Manfred Lewin’s journal, too. He was so excited when he read some of Manfred’s beautiful poetry, he called me right away.
The journal was written for Gad Beck, who has written an autobiography and is one of the storytellers in Paragraph 175. Manfred and Gad were lovers as teenagers in Berlin until Manfred and his family were taken. Gad Beck is still alive today. In their love affair, we found the seeds of our story. We came up with the idea of an actor to play Gad in the present day, while the baritone would sing the role of Manfred. He would appear to Gad as a ghost one night. And through the two of them, we’d be able to share the stories from Paragraph 175 and the poetry of Manfred’s journal.
Mina was the one to introduce me to the gifted, young baritone Morgan Smith. And it was Morgan who suggested Julian Patrick to play the role of Gad. A wonderful series of connections. I chose the instruments in the ensemble because I wanted a variety of color so that I could include elements of jazz and swing, lyrical as well as the gritty instrumentation, and the percussive possibilities of the piano, including using the inside of the piano.
It is Manfred’s phrase “Do you remember?” that established the tone of the piece for me. In our story, Gad wants only to forget the horrors he lived through; Manfred, as a ghost, wants only to be remembered, and he wants Gad to remember their powerful, timeless love. There is a play between past and present. Musically, that was filled with rich possibilities. I found a tune for “Do you remember?” that served as the anchor of the piece. Most of the other material in the piece is connected to that tune. For a Look or a Touch was completed in March 2007.
Beyond the Concert
Saturday, April 2 — 7:15 PM
Sunday, April 3 — 1:15 PM
Performance Ticket Needed to Attend
Session I: Resilience in the Face of Nazi Ideology
Lead by Dee Simon, Co-Executive Director
Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center
Location: McCaw Hall, Allen Room
Exploring the ideology, laws and propaganda that led to a campaign of persecution against homosexuals, the Holocaust Center will draw parallels to events in our world today.
Session II: For a Look or a Touch, a Discussion
(Sunday's discussion hosted by the Jewish Federation)
Location: McCaw Hall, Norcliffe Room
Featuring: Mina Miller, Artistic Director Music of Remembrance (Sat only); Jake Heggie, Composer; Gene Scheer, Librettist; Dennis Coleman, Artistic Director SMC; Eric Lane Barnes, Associate Artistic Director SMC; Andrew Russell, Director (Associate Producer: Initman Theatre); Sue Elliot, Director of Education Seattle Opera
Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945
On loan from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Through reproductions of some 250 historic photographs and documents, Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945 examines the rationale, means, and impact of the Nazi regime's attempt to eradicate homosexuality that left thousands dead and shattered the lives of many more.
On display in the lobby of McCaw Hall as part of SMC’s concert weekend.
Open to the Public - FREE Admission
Wednesday, March 30 — Saturday, April 2
Noon — 10:00 PM
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Noon — 5:00 PM
Docent Tours of Exhibit
Saturday, April 2 — 1:15 PM & 6:30 PM
Sunday, April 3 — 12:30 PM
- Jake Heggie's website» www.jakeheggie.com
- Music of Remembrance website» www.musicofremembrance.org
- Paragraph 175 Documentary website» www.tellingpictures.com/films/5.html
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website» www.ushmm.org
- Morgan Smith's website» www.morgansmithbaritone.com
- Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center website» www.wsherc.org
- Make a donation in support of the project
- Black Tie & Sequins - Annual Auction